The Innovate Initiative: an Outcome of the Innovate Oregon Foundation

Innovate Oregon (IO) began when Oregon’s technology industry realized that the homegrown, tech-ready workforce needed for our growing technology-based industries and businesses was sorely lacking. The Technology Association of Oregon rallied the industry and created IO to:

  • Develop an inclusive Innovation Culture in our communities
  • Inspire new education models in our schools that use industry best practices in order to prepare a 21st century workforce
  • Re-energize Oregonians’ can-do attitude and create a national model of partnership, that will transform economic development

Preparing Tomorrow’s Innovators & Workforce Today

The Innovate Initiative is a statewide initiative developed in partnership with Innovate Oregon. This initiative recognizes that every aspect of our economy is being rapidly transformed by new digital technologies and that it is essential that we develop a workforce that has the skills and mindsets of innovation. Around the United States, the priority is workforce. The most successful companies are moving operations to those regions that can provide a 21st Century workforce.

In the summer of 2014, Dayton, Oregon invited a team from Innovate Oregon to launch an Innovation Academy.  That initial engagement, and pioneering partnership transformed the school and the community. With a kick-start from a community make-a-thon, Dayton created its own innovation culture, Innovate Dayton, and the K-12 schools pioneered their own Agile Learning Model, instilling new teaching practices in the classrooms. Grounded in proficiency-based learning, first self-taught, then augmented with design-thinking professional development, the students and educators developed a set of classes on innovation. And recognizing the power and addiction of hacking and making, they built a new i3 Center where students will have the opportunity to be inspired, innovate and invent. One of 12 schools in the U.S. awarded Lemelson MIT grants – twice – in 3 years, Dayton’s homegrown, agile-based, design-thinking driven education practices set a standard in Oregon. In 2016, the Innovate Oregon team kick-started other communities including Newberg, Yamhill-Carlton, and Willamina.

Like Dayton, the Newberg school district decided to take a bold step forward. They hired a new principle with public-private CTE-STEM experience to transform the high school’s education practices and Innovate Oregon rushed in to support. Innovate Newberg was born. And it is the perfect counterpoint to Innovate Dayton – a larger community, with multiple elementary and middle schools feeding a sizable high school, with 47% of students on the free-lunch program, a large Hispanic and English as a second language learners. As importantly, proficiency-based learning is not the standard. In short, bigger, but not economically well-off, diverse, but still teaching to the traditional bell curve. In the first two years, school administrators and teachers participated in d.School design-Thinking training provided by the Construct FoundationMatt Miller was hired to create the Integrated Design Studio, and A.R.E. Manufacturing partnered with the high school to create an in-school job shop where students run the business, producing the revenue to sustain and grow it. in 2018, Innovate Newberg held its first make-a-thon, to launch a significant design-Thinking training session for a co-hort of 8th and 9th grade teachers. The intention: bridge the gap in the middle-to-high school transition, then let the agile learning practices trickle down and connect with similar elementary program and grow up through the high school naturally.

And the word has spread to communities such as Bend and Dallas, who have reached out to Innovate Oregon to get help starting their own initiatives. Stay tuned.

None of this can happen without the commitment for the very businesses that so badly need a skilled workforce. Local businesses like Stoller Family Estate and OnlineNW are critical.  Stoller funds a regional precision vineyard program in Dayton and OnlineNW delivers 10 Gigabit Internet services to Dayton and Willamina – with a community revenue-sharing program that helps sustain the cities’ innovation initiatives. And a local technology startup accelerator, Chehalem Valley Innovation Accelerator, provides wrap-around support and services. Corporate development partners such as Tektronix, IBM, SparkFun help shape design and development challenges for the students that invigorates their learning with new purpose. Educational partners such as the Lemelson-MIT Program, Construct Foundation, Stanford University’s and EDC’s Ocean of Data Institute provide innovation programs for students and professional development for educators creating new opportunities that embrace design thinking and agile development methodologies.

A new age of learning is upon us. We are accelerating the power of possibility as we work together to unleash the creative genius of our students and communities.